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France strikes: is the end in sight after Macron's compromise on pensions?

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Women sing against French President Emmanuel Macron, who is mocked at center, during a demonstration, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020 in Paris.
Women sing against French President Emmanuel Macron, who is mocked at center, during a demonstration, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020 in Paris.   -  
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AP Photo/Francois Mori - Francois Mori
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France's crippling transport strike dragged into its 40th day on Monday despite the government's offer to temporarily scrap the most contested measure of the pension reform plans.

French rail operator SNCF said it expected services to improve on Monday but unions remained divided about the government's compromise and the future of their social movement.

Is the plight of French public transports users likely to end anytime soon? Euronews looks at the implications of the government's latest announcements and the reactions so far.

What's the compromise about?

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Saturday he would temporarily drop plans to increase the official age for a full pension to 64 from 62 in an effort to end a strike which has paralysed the country.

French President Emmanuel Macron called the change "a constructive and responsible compromise".

READ MORE: French pension reforms: PM Philippe willing to scrap controversial part of government plans

In one of Macron's signature reforms, the government is seeking to rationalise 42 existing pension schemes into a single, points-based system it says will be fairer and more transparent. Unions fear it will force millions to work longer for a smaller retirement payout.

Particularly controversial was the proposal to impose the 64 "pivot age" that people would have to work to in order to qualify for a full pension.

Bruno Cautrès, a political scientist at Cevipof and CNRS, told Euronews it was still too early to apprehend the impact of the compromise on the strikes, firstly because it was "full of ambiguities.".

"No one knows whether the pivot age is actually withdrawn or not and whether its suspension concerns only the period 2022-2027. The Prime Minister's letter seems to indicate that the pivot age will apply after that date. This point is essential because it can fuel controversies, oppositions and mobilisations," the expert said.

How have unions reacted?

The more reformist trade unions - the FDT, Unsa and FRC - welcomed the compromise announcement and said they were now ready to work with employers on the sustainable financing of the state pension system.

The Unsa union for national railway workers maintained its strike call on Sunday while recognising the government's reconciliatory move.

The union "remains on strike " but will return to the negotiating table, secretary-general Didier Mathis told AFP.

However, the more hardline CGT, FO and Solidaires unions were standing firm, calling for the strike and protests to continue, including a major demonstration on January 16.

CGT head Philippe Martinez played down the impact of the CFDT and Unsa's readiness to resume negotiations, and spoke of internal splits within these groups.

"We will see" what the unions' workers have to say on the issue, he said, reiterating his call for the government to withdraw the pension reforms completely which he described as "the major requirement of a majority of unions representing a majority of employees".

However, the financial hit is weakening the resolve of some strikers.

Cautrès said some of the strikers may want to seize the opportunity offered by the government compromise to get back to work and earn an income again - but the strikes may very well resume afterwards, he noted.

"We can, therefore, expect a reduced mobilisation, which does not mean the end of it and which does not exclude a rebound in turnout at the upcoming protests."

Has service improved so far?

Transports services improved significantly on Monday after weeks of paralysis.

Nine of 10 high-speed TGV trains would run on French and international routes, SNCF said - and commuters in and around Paris could expect seven out of 10 trains to operate.

The government was adamant that the strikers should now go back to work.

"There is no longer any reason for this strike movement to continue," said Elisabeth Borne, minister in charge of transport.

Union meetings Monday will decide on the future of the strikes on France's local and national rail services.

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